Lottery is a gambling game in which tickets with numbers are sold and winners are selected by chance. The first recorded lottery dates from the Han dynasty of China (2nd millennium BC). The practice of giving away property and slaves by lottery is ancient, as is the custom of drawing lots for dinner entertainment in ancient Rome (apophoreta, “that which is carried home”).
In colonial America, lotteries helped finance public ventures such as roads, libraries, churches, canals, bridges, and colleges. They also played a significant role in the war against the French and Indians. In modern times, state lotteries are a popular source of funding for schools, hospitals, roads, and other community projects.
People also use the word lottery to refer to any activity whose outcome depends on fate or luck. For example, they might say that a job interview is like a lottery, or that life itself is a lottery. These examples are automatically selected from various online sources and may not reflect the opinions of Merriam-Webster or its editors. We welcome feedback.